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The Internal Recruitment Pie: Do you really want a slice?

By June 7, 20128 Comments

Those who follow our usual Blogger Jon Rice on Twitter will know that he has taken a well-earned holiday. Being the dynamic yet empowering leader that he is, and nothing to do with the fact that he’ll be drinking cocktails on a Samoan beach right about now, he’s handed the keys (and password) to the Whiteboard to an underling like me.  Jon also enjoys giving matchboxes to arsonists. I won’t bore you with the details, but the majority of my experience was gained in the giddy world of Internal Recruitment, and after hopping the fence, I now pass my days recruiting exclusively in the HR and Internal Recruitment space.

Given the nature of what we do here at Rice Consulting we occasionally debate the percentage of Agency-side recruiters who would accept an Internal Recruitment role if offered. Across the office we place the figure at around 50%. Personally, and anecdotally, I’d place the figure closer to 75%. Specialising in recruiting for the internal market, on a good day with the wind blowing in the right direction, I’ll be contacted by at least 5 Agency Recruiters looking for their first Internal Recruitment foray.

So what’s drawing these go-getting, hard-closing Recruiters to the often financially underwhelming world of Internal Recruitment?

It seems that like refereeing a topless darts match, there is a Tasman-sized gulf between perception and reality. A fair proportion of Agency Recruiters who contact me see Internal Recruitment as being like a spa day without the painful hair removal; it’s an opportunity to drive strategy, build mile-deep (1.61km) relationships within the business, and drive innovative attraction strategies without a KPI in sight. Hey, you might even make HR Director within 3 years.

The reality is (with some notable exceptions), the life of the Internal Recruiter is not nearly as much fun. In tough times, big corporates are screwing down on headcount. And this includes, and often originates, from the broader HR function. The majority of Internal Recruiters I know are overworked and underpaid with little or no admin support. Hell, they are the admin support. Experienced Recruiters who can and have recruited to Board Level, are spending their days swearing at and wrestling with clunky Applicant Tracking Systems that won’t “talk” to their other bespoke software package. Instead of building relationships within the business, they’re drowning under an avalanche of PO queries, offer letters, and unsolicited business development calls (sorry guys!).

Talking to an experienced Internal Recruiter this week, they expressed their frustration at no longer being allowed to take reference checks. “Surely a good thing!” I proclaimed. The reference check has long been the bane of the Internal and Agency Recruiter alike; a veritable kryptonite of late night calls to the UK and chasing disinterested previous managers for monosyllable, grunted, mild platitudes.

“No Sean” our downtrodden friend responded; “Taking a reference was the last thing that made me feel like an actual Recruitment Consultant”. It’s now been outsourced. Overseas. The reference check – so often marginalised by their Agency-side cousins, had become the highlight of the week. Woohoo! The candidate shows up on-time and doesn’t steal stationery! How’s that for job satisfaction?

When I arrived on these shores all of 11 months ago, I interviewed for an Internal Recruitment role with a large Financial Services organisation with a blue logo. 45 minutes into a detailed description of the recruitment process, I had to ask at what point will I actually get to recruit? Y’know, actually source and then speak to candidates, interview, negotiate offers etc. The answer? “We operate quite a low-touch model here.”

Low touch. That’s exactly why I got into recruitment. To avoid candidates. Yeah, right.

As an Agency Recruiter, yes – there is too much focus on short term revenue generation. Sometimes, the cost of this is less than stellar candidate and client care. We live and die by our number, and this doesn’t always sit comfortably with those who were told on day one that they were a “consultant”, not a salesperson.  However, very few can argue that when things are good, they’re really good! The administrative shortcomings, the tardiness, the liquid lunch Fridays, are often conveniently overlooked for top performers. Think you’ll get that kind of special treatment in-house huh??

So what for the future? Is it really so bleak for Internal Recruitment wannabes? Firstly, there is a huge variance between the Internal Recruitment functions across Australasia. A lot of big corporates don’t get it, but some really get it. The recent spate of Jobgrams and specialist sourcing roles within large corporates indicates that for every horror story, there are businesses who are taking the learnings from Agency Recruitment, mixing it with a liberal sprinkling of marketing nous, baking at 200°C for 40 minutes, resulting in a great big sexy Talent Attraction pie. Yummy! Break me off a piece of that!

Likewise, there’s hope for all of us. The truly great Internal Recruitment functions embrace their external counterparts. For speed of response and candidate networks; we take some beating. The challenge for even the top Internal functions is that they also have a 300 person call centre, a Finance Director and the strange woman in HR with cat pictures on her desk to contend with – agencies have 12 consultants with phones glued to their collective ears for 9 hours a day.

So… If you are thinking about making the jump, just be forewarned; the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. There are Internal Recruiters as I type who are looking to return to the dark side. If you’re still keen on the Internal path, I like your style! Give me a call and I’ll shout you a coffee.

For those who are undecided; I’ve created an (ever-so-slightly) tongue-in-cheek assessment tool. Please feel free to cut out and keep and glance at next time you’re $2k below threshold….



Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • David says:

    I know how much Jon likes it when people add comments to his post so wanted to help you hold your own Sean. Great post, havent laughed so much for a while, asdie from the high-light of my week – the reference check.

  • Julian says:

    Nice article Sean, reminded me of some of the frustrations I had to endure when working in-house for Govt, mostly around admin and following ‘process’.  To be fair though, I had a wonderful experience working in-house in the video games industry where we were given license to be bold and creative in developing channels for attracting talent.  Admin was kept to a minimum and we worked for a brand with a great story to tell, and which we as recruiters, were proud to represent. 

  • Esther Brown says:

    Brilliant Sean – from one of the ones who called you a while back and has now made the switch to internal so much of this is so true (but I still wouldn’t go back to agency).

  • Lisa Delehanty says:

    A thoroughly amusing article.  🙂

  • Johan Ferrari says:

    You can always climb up in the “agency food chain” and
    have all the “joys” of internal recruitment as well….. best of both worlds….

  • Paula Williams says:

    Nice Sean! Got a chuckle from me 😉

  • Very nice work, Sean, enjoyed it thoroughly. Dad better watch out, his apprentice is learning fast.